Jul 10, 2014

A whale named 'Hancock'

It's almost as if I never saw the whale...at least, if you go by the pictorial records of my days. 
The way memory seems to work is that the ones you preserve (visually or by retelling) stand in as summaries of the entire experience as the surrounding details fade, even the important ones. 

But this was the first of my many whale watching trips, where I had the ability to easily archive this joy on my handy phone camera. Yet I didn't click. Not much anyway.

Admittedly, I was somewhat distracted by the steep ocean swells we were riding, courtesy Hurricane Arthur that had passed by mere hours ago. Just a few miles out of Boston harbor the crew had closed off the open bow of the catamaran and ushered us into the safety of the enclosed cabin. Barf bags were handed out even before we hit the first mammoth swell and many were put to use shortly after. We climbed up and plunged down wall after wall of mountainous waves, occasionally rolling from side to side with wrenching heaves, on a dizzying ride that left us breathless. 

Out in the deeper and relatively calmer waters, the cold breeze on the deck (open again to us) helped much. The roiling sea ensured that most of us still clutched the rails with white-knuckle grips but we stayed up and our food stayed down, that was the main thing. The boat finally slowed down about 90 minutes away from Boston and the marine biologist on the PA system started calling out timeface directions to guide us. 

"Spout at 1 o'clock" and "bubble ring at 6 o'clock" helped us read the ocean surface and prepare for the invariably fleeting glimpse of a curved back and dorsal fin or, more rarely, the complete fluke (tail) of a deep-diving creature.

Our visit that day turned out to be with Hancock, a 100 foot long, pregnant Humpback. Records show that she has visited these waters since calf-hood. Accompanied in youth by her mother, she faithfully returns on her own now every year for the calorific summer feasts that sustain her through the long, fasting winter. This annual Cetacean migration makes Stellwagen Bank, off the coast of Massachusetts, a haven for whale research and tourism. 

We turned this way and that on the advice of the expert, catching thrilling glimpses of Hancock as she chased invisible schools of fish underwater. She got close enough that we learnt that her black dorsal fin was edged with white. She dived often enough for us to start recognizing her fluke pattern.

Yet, I didn't bother to take more than a few obligatory shots.

This is comment-worthy only because, ever since acquiring my iPhone, documenting my life and its occasional 'meaningful' moments has become a reflex. One that I instinctively know interferes with the experiences themselves at times. 

It's immensely positive for the most part. The ease with which I am able to capture incidental delights, enriches my life in many ways. I'm more aware of things before, during and after. An oil spill with shimmering rainbow colors on a rain-slicked parking lot surface, the slick bumps of frozen drips on a wintertime drain pipe, imprints of leaves on a sidewalk, a lone snail on a an eggplant in the store or lost keys tucked away in plain sight...all would have escaped my notice and memory if my phone camera had not gone to work.

Yet there are times when this instinct to document mars the very moments I'm striving to celebrate or preserve. Oyon has lately taken to flinging out a shield arm whenever my phone assumes anything resembling clicking position. It would be loutish to ignore his need for space and privacy. I have much fewer pictures of the first half of his 7th year as a result. 

This trip was one of the first staging grounds for photographic self-restraint. I had the opportunity to photograph Hancock many times. I chose instead to just look at the mammoth creature, gracefully living its life within our privileged sight. To smell the air, delight in the rolling of the boat, take-in Oyon's grinning face as he eagerly scanned the horizon, listen attentively to his tall tales about what he thought he had seen (a dark shark just under the water just by our boat).

It was liberating and enriching to just 'be'. Oyon really wanted me to get a picture of Hancock's fluke though so I accommodated by taking a picture of a picture held up by the friendly marine biologist on board. 

I left the real photography to my skilled husband and did what I do best: soaked it all in. 
The few shots I took were ones that mattered enough in the moment for me to disengage from the experience and retrieve the device tucked deep in my cost pocket.  

An excited little girl spotting Hancock's spout and arching back (when we first sighted her in the far distance):

Sho's sporting uncle and aunt visiting from India who gamely accompanied us because their beloved grandson wanted to see the whales.

The incredible green water churned up by our catamaran's jets.

And this picture (from my office desk) - of my mom, about ten years ago, on a similar whale watching trip, reacting as only she can to the exhilaration of waves and wind and wild creatures:

Hancock is undoubtedly still out there, circumscribing  deliberate, slow, feeding circles in our fertile waters, as she nurtures new life within. I didn't get to glimpse the barnacles on her nose or get sprayed by whale-exhale like on previous, closer encounters with her kind. Neither though, did my other memories get outshone by a shot of a glistening fluke meters from my face. 

Instead, I hope I will remember the undocumented whoops of delight from my son at the bumpy boat ride, grins exchanged with my husband as we held onto the bucking railings in winds that would have whipped words away anyway, the flavor of the ginger chews that combatted sea-sickness so well and my mothers laughing face on a trip just like this years ago. 

He put on  an impromptu play for his visiting grandparents one evening, conscripting his considerable collection of stuffed toys (calls them his 'pets') into action.
The synopsis: Some pets are taking a special cruise on a cargo ship. Attie (a B&W critter) is fishing and caught 13 fish one of which is a lobster. Honk-honk (a penguin) is hanging upside down and looking for basking sharks when suddenly Attie screams because his underpants just flew off and into a portal that suddenly opened up in the air. He jumps after it and disappears into another universe where the sun is lemon cotton-candy, the trees have  Laffy-taffy leaves and the rocks are really Rock Candy. Soon enough the portal sucks in Honk-honk and some  others too as well as their cargo/cruise ship. Also a fluffy white dog from a fishing boat. After eating too much sugar they decide to return to earth but don't know how. They open up one of the cargo boxes but it's full of menus for snacks sold at the Soccer World Cup Semi-finals in Brazil. 
Useless for opening portals. 
Honk-honk is frustrated and shakes a fist at where the portal was and yells "Hello-ooop!" 
That's the magic word! He gets sucked back to earth and splashes into the ocean (since the ship is in the other universe). He 'hello' opens the portal again and brings back all his friends (and the ship). Attie needs to make another trip back as he forgot to collect  the underpants that first got sucked away. They have a great vacation. 
The End.
(We said, before it started, that we'd buy tickets to his play if we felt it was entertaining. His asking price was 31 cents each.)

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